This season the Red Bull Cliff World Series celebrates its landmark 10th season, and to mark this occasion the legend Orlando Duque has sat down to look back over the history of the sport and answer a few questions on the highs and the lows, the joys and the regrets, the past and the future.
The World Series celebrates its 10th birthday this year – what do you write on the birthday card?
On the birthday card I'll write of course "Happy 10th birthday, to many more cliffs, warm water, and all the way to the Olympics."
Cliff diving is your passion. Red Bull Cliff Diving has been a big part your life for the last ten years. What are the things that come to your mind when you think about how you spent the prime of your life?
Diving in general has been a big part of my life. But these last ten years of Red Bull Cliff Diving is probably the most fun I had in my life. Diving, competing, travelling to these beautiful places is just doing what I love to do. Hanging around with great friends, a great crew, it's a dream come true. I think most people you tell the story can't imagine this is what you do for work.
You are the one diver who without doubt has had a big impact on the sport. Red Bull Cliff Diving wears your signature. If you take a look back at the past ten years, what are the things that make you proud?
For sure what makes me proud is the creating of Red Bull Cliff Diving. It came at the the moment I was planning my retirement and we were struggling to have more competitions happening and Red Bull finally decided to create a World Series for us. You know, that's what the sport deserved and just that start was a huge step; winning of course it's something that makes me really proud, that's what we all train for.
Later on, having FINA recognize also the sport and including it in their FINA calendar for the aquatic sports. I think it's a big step and that happened because of Red Bull Cliff Diving. FINA finally realized that we were a professional group of athletes. Now that I'm looking at retirement, I think there is still space to grow. I hope I can be a part of it. I'm sure the sport still has many more things that make us proud.
Are there moments of regret, too?
I wouldn't say too many. I say tough times were when we had to dive in difficult conditions, or competitions we had to cancel - I believe just in Brazil. Other than that, it's been a pretty good ride. If most people have challenges in their office, in their day to day jobs, this shouldn't be an exception. But regret, I don't think so. I spend a good part of my life working on this. I think I enjoyed it every minute.
What's the biggest achievement of the World Series?
I think the biggest achievement of the World Series is taking a sport that might have looked like it was a crazy thing, and making it something more professional, more real, that even has a shot at the Olympic Games. Before, the pool divers and the Olympic divers would look at us like the crazy guys. We were the ones that left the pool to go outside. They looked at us as just circus people and now we are professionals. This is a sport with a full world series, world championships, world cup. It has grown into something much bigger and I think that came from the creation of Red Bull Cliff Diving.
Besides victories, records and reaching the status of a legend – what do you see as your biggest achievement of the past ten years?
Oh I don't look back too much at what I've done. I think in a way that's what brought me to where I am today. Not counting all those things I've done. I remember having won a lot of competitions and being in a really good position in the sport and still wanting more. That's the case even today. People may call me legend or whatever. I don't see it that way, I don't look at it that way. I might just be the face of it. But I think working together, we've got into where we are. I'm still looking forward to more, I still have a couple more years of competition and I hope I can achieve a few more things and add to that long list of good things that have happened.
Looking at the developments over the past nine/ten years, what has changed most? What was necessary to be on the top back then and what do you have to do now?
As you know, the sport has developed so much in the technical part. Now dives are more difficult. However, a little bit of quality has been sacrificed; back then we were focusing still a lot more on quality, and it was paying off for a while; difficulty took over but I think it's going back to quality. However back in the day, let's say a really strong mental game helped a lot because we didn't do too many competitions. Now it is a full season, you have to be focused a whole year.
Physically also you have to be very fit to avoid injuries. You see a lot of the guys, including myself ending seasons with injuries or not even being able to finish the seasons. So it keeps changing, preparation as well, now we have training centres, we have federations involved, now we have coaches; lots of coaches have joined in, back in the day it was just us. I still train that way, I keep doing it the old way. I may not work as well, but I'm also ageing and that might be also an important factor. However, the sport has changed, and I think it changed for the best and still has space to grow.
Where do you see the sport ten years from today?
Ten years from today I hope Red Bull Cliff Diving is still around, traveling around the world. It's such a beautiful sport, people have a really nice reception of the divers, of the competition when it comes to their cities. So, I hope Red Bull Cliff Diving still keeps going. I hope to see it in the Olympics, that's going to be my purpose, my goal for the next few years to push really hard to make sure it makes it to the Olympics. I think that's the next natural step.
Where do you see yourself in ten years from today? Will you still be involved in cliff diving?
Myself in ten years. Oh hey it's hard to tell. Because you know I've been lucky in many things that I put all my energy and my thoughts. So I hope I will be around Cliff Diving. I hope I can lead the charge to the Olympic games. I wish I can be there when the guys are going to be competing, myself for sure will not be competing in the Olympics. But I hope I can be there, looking from the side, watching hopefully some of my friends that are today diving, fighting for that medal. I probably will be still diving, 54 it's still pretty young; hopefully doing a masters competition, I know it's a big thing I want to get into. Diving for sure that's been a big part of my life, and I don't think in ten years it's going to stop or going to change too much.
What keeps you motivated after such a long and successful career?
What keeps me motivated is I like competition. I've been doing it since I was ten years old. Also, I think the sport has a lot to grow. I feel like I want to be there, I want to still be a part of its growth. And this is going to push it to the next level, but in general I like to compete, I'd like to think that I still have a chance. Last year I won a competition in Portugal after many years not winning, that tells me I still have what it takes. When I sit down alone and start thinking I see that I still have what it takes. And I want to make it worth till the end.
What's your personal best World Series moment?
In ten years I've had a few personal bests; for sure winning in 2009 it was a big thing. Coming back from injury and winning. The first competition after injury in Corsica, that's a huge motivation for me. I wasn't sure I was able to finish the competition and winning that was a big thing. That year I lost the World Series only by a few points. I think those two are pretty high up there. For sure winning is great, but coming back from injury and recovering that well, I think that was probably the best moment.
Have priorities changed in the past years?
Yeah, priorities have changed in the past ten years. I have to work on my training a bit different. I'm older, I don't recover the same, it's tough to maintain the strength, that level I had before so I have to change my training a lot. I have to sacrifice some time in the water and spend that time in the gym. However, the mental priorities are the same, I want to win, I train hard to win, it's just in what order or in what amounts I have to do the preparation. Other than that, I don't think anything else has changed.
What is it that you still want to achieve in cliff diving?
If I look around, look back and think a lot about it, I've done a lot of things. Off the top of my head, I couldn't think immediately of what is it that I still want to achieve. For sure I want to do more dives, for sure I want to visit many more places. When I look at the map of the world I see unexplored areas that I know that are beautiful places. I know there is so much beautiful nature, beautiful energy. So, for sure I want to stay there but more than anything I want to keep telling people, showing people that this is a sport that can be done safely, that it can be enjoyed for a long time. And when it seems we are being crazy, we're just knowing exactly what we are doing. With that in mind, I think there is still a lot of cliffs to climb and jump off.
The World Series is growing up – what's the necessary next step? What's missing? A competition on all continents, a season that starts earlier in the year and ends later,....
The series is growing. I mean a necessary step. Maybe a competition that lasts longer and starts earlier and later. It gives the athletes a little bit of time to recover or it helps with traveling. A lot of times people are far away from their families for a long time and that makes it difficult. Going to all continents I think it will be, it makes it into a World Series, it makes it to be a really big thing.
In terms more specific to the diving, judges can always be improved; that is something that happens in football, in ice-skating, in everything, judging can always be improved. Not only Red Bull, but FINA is also working hard, making sure this is better, safety is top notch for sure. You guys have done a great job and that gives us a good chance to push a little bit harder. That's why the level of difficulty has grown. There is still a few things we can improve and that's what will help us grow more in the future.
What do you miss during the off-season?
During the off-season for sure I miss hanging out with the people, with the crew, that works there, the divers. It's always really good energy, the local teams are great, just sitting down and talking stories, drinking a beer. Off-season is always tough. People think we sit around and jump off cliffs, the off-season is a lot of training, a lot of preparation, lots of hours in the gym, a lot of hours in the pool. So, it's nice when you get to go to the competition, share stories, talk to people. And actually, give your body a break until it's time to dive.
Orlando Duque is a symbol of the sport, the voice and face of Red Bull Cliff Diving. Is a future where Orlando Duque will represent something else even possible?
Yeah, some people say Orlando Duque is a symbol of the sport. I don't know. I mean sports for sure will be my future, cliff diving for sure, but I mean I hope I can, I'd like to do many more things, but for now it's cliff diving I'm focusing my energy on that.
You're 43 years old and still kicking ass. Do you sometimes feel you're running out of time?
44 years old this year. I wouldn't say kicking ass, but I'm so hanging in there! I'm top 10 which is not easy. I don't feel like I'm running out of time, I think I'm enjoying my time. I think I'm trying to make to most of it. And I'm preparing myself hard enough to make sure I last until I want to last. Half way through the season you may think preparation didn't go according to what you wanted, but I wouldn't say I feel like I'm running out of time.
I always try to go in with a plan. The plan is always to win, win the World Series, if that's not working well, just hanging in there until I can qualify and try again. But no I'm not running out of time, if anything I've enjoyed, I took advantage of my time I've had in the World Series.
You're a hero for many up and coming divers; more and more talents are pushing into the World Series. What's the skill or ability that they need to make it onto the top?
The skill or the ability the new guys need is they have to be technically good. Why, because we are making so much emphasis on judging now, that you can do the most difficult dives but if they are not technically sound, you are not going to get big scores. Of course, there is always the other side people think only with difficulty you can do everything. Even diving is going back to that. The actual dives look great, that's the essence of the sport, it has to be as difficult as possible and it should look good. My suggestion to the new guys, especially if I'm going to be around in the next few years, is to make it look good, technically sound. I has to be proper and you cannot, just because it's difficult, hope for big scores out of that. It should be done correctly.
When Jonathan came to Yucatan in 2011 as a wildcard you said he's going be our future champion – this future is now. What made you so sure and how rocky was the road?
When Jonathan came to Yucatan in 2011 I just said that he is going to be the future because technically he is so good, in the air he looks so good. The arms, the legs, everything is where it needs to be, the head is in the position where it needs to be and the water entry reflects that. Without very high difficulty he's managed to win the World Series, he's managed to win World Series stops, a medal at the World Championships, he's become one of the best cliff divers in the world. So it proves the point that he has to be technically good. He comes from a very good diving school; the Mexican diving school is great. So, I knew you can see that from far away when you have the experience or when you have been around the sport for a long time you can tell the difference when Jonathan is in the air or some other divers are in the air.
You put a lot of personal effort into Jonathan. You're coach, father, friend and mentor. How proud does it make you to see him on top? Would you do that again (also with someone else)?
Jonathan and I, we are just good friends. People like to see more, maybe a story, but we are just friends. He helps me as much as I help him. What he does in the air, he learned all of that in Mexico, all that comes from his diving school. Something he should be very proud, and the Mexicans should be very proud. Maybe mentally I help him a little bit, but it's the same thing he does with me, when I have a tough time he tries to help me as well. I think it's a mutually beneficial relationship.
Seeing him on top, seeing him grow and kind of work with him along the way is satisfying. When I said to some people, this guy is going to be pretty good, some thought without difficulty it's not possible. But you know he is there, he is showing it.
It's not to say that I would do it or not with somebody else. A friendship like that you can't make it with everybody. It comes more on the diver and they should know themselves they have to work hard, if they want to make it to the very top. If you ask all the four World Series champions, nobody gave them anything. I think all of them work hard all the way to win it and to take it.